Lake County Captains 71-66 (4th in Eastern Division of Midwest League)
For most Tribe prospects, the 16-team Midwest League represents a first taste of full-season ball. Whether they stay just for a matter of days (like Bradley Zimmer at the end of last season) or two and a half years (like Dorssys Paulino prior to his promotion this year), it's rare for a prospect to bypass Lake County altogether.
The Captains improved significantly on last year's 65-74 record, but the vagaries of split-season baseball meant that they failed to emulate the 2014 team's achievement in reaching the playoffs (and then going all the way to the championship final).
Here's a quick look at the key contributors to this year's campaign.
CF Greg Allen is yet another terrific center-field prospect for the Tribe, along with Zimmer, Frazier, Naquin and also Gabriel Mejia in short-season ball. Allen put up a very promising .273/.368/.382 line with 43 steals, while manning CF in fine fashion, and he was rewarded with a late-season promotion to the Hillcats.
1B Bobby Bradley was clearly the star of the show in Lake County. Despite missing three weeks with an oblique injury in April/May, he demonstrated rare power for a 19yo in smashing 27 home runs and earning national recognition. He did manage to strike out an incredible 150 times, but hopefully they will be able to iron that out in Lynchburg next year.
SS Yu-Cheng Chang didn't manage to build on a fine rookie campaign that saw him reach No.14 in the LGT community prospect rankings. In June he suffered a concussion which cost him nearly three weeks, and it took several more weeks before he fully regained his hitting ability. Then, just when things were looking up, he suffered another injury in the field that knocked him out for another couple of weeks. A final line of .232/.293/.361 was disappointing, and it remains to be seen whether he has done enough to earn a promotion to the Hillcats for Opening Day (my guess is yes, with Willi Castro and Tyler Krieger likely to need a SS spot with the Captains).
INF Yonathan Mendoza actually began and finished the season as injury cover in Akron (with a few games in Lynchburg along the way). However, the 21yo was primarily used in Lake County, where he saw a lot of action at SS, 2B and 3B while hitting a highly respectable .286/.360/.362. One would imagine that he has certainly done enough to feature at least on the Lynchburg roster to start 2016.
C Francisco Mejia is still only 19, so the fact that he was even playing everyday catcher in full-season ball is remarkable. And overall he did a pretty good job, hitting .243/.324/.345 but coming on stronger as the year progressed.
3B Taylor Murphy was converted from the OF for this season and, even though he had some defensive struggles, he hit well enough with a .258/.364/.369 line to very likely earn a shot in Lynchburg next year.
LF Dorssys Paulino returned to the Captains for a third season and was finally rewarded with a promotion to the Hillcats after making a whopping 316 career appearances in a Captains' uniform. During that extended period, he had seen his prospect status dip dramatically (not least because he was switched from shortstop to left field). Having finally reached Class A+, however, Paulino took off, batting .305/.371/.526 in 43 games for the Hillcats.
Hopefully, he won't have to wait two and a half years for a promotion this time around, although it should be noted that Paulino has been around so long that he is actually eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft this December (not that one would expect him actually to be selected).
OF Anthony Santander was once a top 20 prospect, but only managed 104 games over two injury-hit seasons in 2013 and 2014. Still only 20, the switch-hitter didn't begin his 2015 season until mid-June, but was rapidly promoted back to the Captains from the Scrappers and then put together a terrific .278/.337/.464 line in 64 games. He's a very intriguing sleeper if he can stay healthy.
Incidentally, 21yo 2B Claudio Bautista also played well in 64 games for the Captains, but struggled badly after his mid-season promotion to Lynchburg.
LHP Sean Brady was the bedrock of the Captains' rotation, leading the team in innings pitched with 146.1. The 21yo was one of five(!) pitchers to strike out over 100 hitters, but his overall 3.81 ERA/1.23 WHIP was solid rather than spectacular.
RHP Luke Eubank was impressive in relief for the second straight season since being drafted in the 15th rd last year. The 21yo struck out 52 in 50 IP in recording a 2.70 ERA with a superb 1.00 WHIP.
RHP Justin Garcia missed his rookie season after being taken in the 38th rd in 2013, but this year he certainly justified the Tribe's perseverance with him in recording a 1.89 ERA/1.05 WHIP in 52.1 innings as a reliever.
RHP Cameron Hill took over the closer role once J.P.Feyereisen was promoted and put together a second stright terrific season. The 21yo was only drafted in the 17th rd last year, but managed to improve on his gaudy rookie numbers with 70 strikeouts in 59 IP for a 1.53 ERA/0.95 WHIP.
RHP Jordan Milbrath is old for the level, having recently turned 24. However, after a torrid first three months of the season, he turned his season around and reduced his ERA from 6.20 in the first half to 3.28 in the second. Given his advanced age and the fact that he struck out 130 in 140.2 IP, his future may lie as a reliever.
LHP Thomas Pannone started the season pitching mainly out of the bullpen, but (once Dace Kime was promoted) seized his opportunity to become a regular starter, amassing 120 strikeouts in 116.1 IP with an excellent 1.16 WHIP. Still only 21, it will be interesting to see how the 2013 9th rd pick fares in Lynchburg next year.
LHP Anderson Polanco is a slightly older prospect at 23, but he exploited his opportunity to start every turn in the rotation and ended up with 119 strikeouts in 126 IP.
LHP Justus Sheffield may not have pitched as many innings as Brady or Milbrath, but 138 strikeouts in 127.2 IP was fine testament to the decision to take him in the 1st rd last year. Sheffield is still only 19 and is one of the most exciting prospects in what is rapidly becoming a deep Tribe farm system.
LHP David Speer was a lowly 27th rd pick in last year's draft, but he has barely put a foot wrong since joining the organization. Not content with recording a 1.73 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 62.1 IP for the Captains, the 23yo took advantage of a late-season promotion to the Hillcats in pitching 5.1 scoreless innings with another five strikeouts.
In May Dace Kime was promoted to the Hillcats after just six starts with the Captains, while J.P.Feyereisen followed suit after 16 great efforts in relief. Also, Sean Brady pitched two starts for the Hillcats at the end of the year.
Possible Captains roster for 2016
1B: Tapia/de la Cruz (also 3rd catcher)
2B: Mathias/Haggerty (also 3B backup)
SS: Castro/Krieger (latter missed 2015 but will likely be aggressively promoted in 2016)
CF: G.Mejia/Sayles (also corner OF backup)
Rotation: Shane/Milbrath/Robinson//Merrryweather/Hartson and perhaps McKenzie (if they are aggressive with him)